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It’s common knowledge that jealousy can arise in the context of romantic relationships. However, does jealousy also happen in friendships and familial relationships, or is that envy? Jealousy and envy can both occur in all types of relationships and outside of a relationship.

What is envy?

Envy is closely related to resentment. When you envy someone, you resent them for possession or advantage they have that you wish you had. For example, suppose you envy your brother for his affluent lifestyle, a lifestyle you have always dreamt you had. In that case, you resent him for his wealthy lifestyle. To that extent, as resentment involves the attribution of responsibility and blame, you irrationally take your brother responsible for the unfair distribution of goods. Envy implies that the envier perceives herself as deserving of the advantage or possession as the envied. For example, if you envy your brother for his affluent lifestyle, you think you deserve it at least as much as he does.

This comparative aspect of envy is sometimes based on the envier’s perception of similarity between themselves and the envied person. There is a sense in which that is true. You are probably more inclined to envy a sibling who leads an affluent life than you are to envy a stranger for living a similar lifestyle. Yet even if we are more prone to envy those we feel similar to, this doesn’t entail that we never envy strangers. We are inclined to envy celebrities and extraordinarily successful, wealthy, beautiful, or intelligent people. You may be more keenly aware of feeling delight at their downfall than feeling envious of them. This feeling of satisfaction in response to another person’s misfortune is also known as schadenfreude.

What is jealousy?

In common jargon, “jealousy” is often synonymous with “envy.” But they are distinct emotions. Where envy is a reaction to another person’s seemingly unfair advantage or possession, jealousy is a reaction to a perceived threat of losing someone you already possess in some sense, usually a person with whom you have a special relationship, to someone else. Who exactly we direct our jealousy is still up for debate. One option is that jealousy targets those we take to be directly responsible for introducing the threat of loss into our life. If, say, you discover that your long-term romantic partner has had a secret affair for the past two years, you’ll direct your jealousy at both parties. But presumably, we are more likely to take out our jealousy on our partner than on his lover. However, this could reflect a more significant opportunity to show our jealousy to our partner than his lover.

Jealousy seems akin to envy in involving resentment and attribution of responsibility. However, resentment and attribution of responsibility have much greater odds of being rational when present in jealousy than envy. We often think of jealousy as intimately tied to romantic love. This conception may turn on our tendency to think of our significant others as our possession, but jealousy isn’t only present in romantic relationships. One form of sibling rivalry may be based on a perceived threat of losing a parent’s love to the other sibling. Likewise, two friends may compete for the attention and time of a third friend on the grounds of a perceived threat of losing the closeness they both have with the third friend.

What does the Bible say about jealousy vs. envy?

In the Bible, jealousy and envy are listed as sins to avoid, along with greed, slander, and anger. The biblical difference between envy and jealousy is that, in certain circumstances, jealousy can be a positive thing. The Bible never presents envy as positive. The type of jealousy defined as zealous vigilance is the unhappy or angry feeling caused when what rightfully belongs to us is threatened. This is the type of jealousy the bride mentions in Song of Solomon 8:6, which says love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.

Paul wrote of the type of jealousy in 2 Corinthians 11:2, which says I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. Paul says that he promised them to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. Paul saw the Corinthian believers slipping in their devotion to Christ, and, as a loving husband would jealously guard his wife’s affections, so Paul jealously guarded the hearts of his spiritual children. The Bible also portrays God as having loving jealousy over His children.

Envy and jealousy, when viewed as synonyms, are sins. Psalm 73:1–3 reminds us of the dangers of envying the wicked. Acts 7:9 identifies jealousy as the root cause of Jacob’s sons’ mistreatment of their brother Joseph. When we desire what God has not given us, our hearts harden toward Him. Envy or jealousy can blind us to reality and make us believe the lie, as Eve did, that God is holding out on us, detailed in Genesis 3. Envy unchecked can result in walking away from God to meet our desires in our way. Jealousy unchecked can result in bitterness toward those God has called us to love. Both envy and jealousy are dangerous to our well-being and fruitfulness for God’s kingdom.

Jealousy vs. envy is a debate that’s gone on for years. Many people believe that jealousy and envy are synonymous, but that’s not the case. Jealousy occurs when you feel like someone is trying to take something you possess. Envy is when someone else has something that you feel like you deserve. Either way, both emotions are biblical sins. However, jealousy is presented as a positive in some parts of the Bible. Paul mentions godly jealousy when he describes trying to guard the hearts of his spiritual children. The conversation surrounding jealousy vs. envy will be around for a long time. Still, it’s important to note that both emotions can appear in any relationship, whether platonic, familial, or romantic. Jealousy and envy are two emotions that can eat you up, so be sure to keep your emotions in check.

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